Dream of: 02 January 1997 "The Question"

I arrived early at a college classroom where I was taking a class in economics. Only one other person was seated in the rather small classroom, which had about 30 chairs in it. I took a seat and immediately opened the thin pamphlet-like book which I was carrying, the book which was used in this course. I was anxious to start reading, because I had just remembered that we were going to have a quiz today, and I hadn't even studied.

I recalled that we were supposed to have studied two different sections in the book. Each section consisted of only a few pages, so I thought there was still time that I could read most of it before the class started. But when I began reading, I discovered that the material was quite dense and difficult to understand. Nevertheless I concentrated as deeply as I could, and the meaning of the material began to unfold for me. The first section read more like a literary story, with a beginning, a middle and an end. By the time I was half way through it, even though it dealt with a rather boring economic problem, I not only understood the story, but found it quite interesting. My only fear was that I wouldn't have time to finish, for while reading the first section, I was at the same time flipping back and forth to the second section, trying to fathom the abstruse technicalities in the second section. Finally it began to seem as if the two sections interrelated. It seemed that the story in the first section posed a problem, and the information in the second section supplied the tools for answering the problem. I began to have hope that even if I didn't completely finish the two sections, I would still be able to do well on the quiz. I thought more than anything, the questions on the quiz would test our powers of logic, and that if I just used my reason when answering the questions, I should do all right.

All the while I was studying, the class was gradually filling up with college-age students, until finally the entire class was full. A young fellow with whom I was vaguely acquainted (who somewhat resembled my old junior high school classmate, Clifford) had sat down next to me on my right. He also had pulled out his papers and was going over them. We spoke to each other and he mentioned something about a question that the teacher had asked at the previous class. I only vaguely remembered the question, but I didn't have time to go over it now; I still needed to finish what I was reading.

Finally the professor entered the room. He was a tall thin man with frizzy reddish-brown hair (probably in his late 30s). (He strongly resembled my first English professor from my first quarter of college). The professor took his seat behind the desk at the front of the room, mumbled a few words, then sat back without saying anything more.

I concluded that the professor must have told us to get ready for the quiz, and I began doing so. I had a white lined tablet on which I intended to write. I closed my book and put some notes at the back of the tablet. I thought it would be all right to put the notes there because I couldn't see them there and I had no intention of cheating. I then spread the tablet out in front of me and waited for the quiz to began. And I waited and waited. I began to become impatient, wondering what was taking the professor so long to start, when I finally noticed that the fellow on my right was busy writing. I looked around the room and saw that although most of the students were waiting like myself, several other students were also writing.

I leaned over to the fellow next to me and asked him what he was writing. He pointed to some writing on his paper and said he was writing the answer to the question that the professor had given us at the previous session. I looked at the question, but I couldn't clearly read it. It looked as if part of it were written in French, and the only word I clearly saw was "le." But I realized my neighbor was nervous about talking to me, for now I understood that we were actually supposed to be taking the test, and he was concerned that he might be accused of helping me with the test.

I sat back upright. Now I understood. When the professor had come in, sat down and mumbled the few words which I hadn't understood, he had obviously told everyone to start the test, and to answer the question that he had given at the previous section. This bothered me because I now realized that if I had studied that question, I would probably have been able to do well on the test. Now I would have to try to answer the question without adequate preparation. But the first thing I needed to do was at least get the question.

I raised my hand. At first it didn't seem as if the professor was even going to acknowledge me, but finally he did. I hurriedly asked him if he would please repeat the question. Again he mumbled something which I couldn't understand. However somehow I knew what he was saying. He was telling us that we were supposed to already have the question, and that he wasn't going to repeat it.

I was stunned, and I looked around at the other students in disbelief. Most of the other students also didn't have the question, and they seemed as surprised as me. However no one else said anything, and I quickly perceived that I was the only one who would confront the professor about this. Seeing no other recourse, I finally stood to my feet and began to protest. In a rambling speech I argued about the unfairness of the professor's method. I put special emphasis on the way the professor talked in such a low voice so he couldn't always be heard. I tried to place all the blame on him for not making it clear to the students what the question was, and that we were going to be tested on that one particular question. I especially criticized him for not even repeating the question to us now at the time of the test. Finally I raised my hand in the air and asked, "How many people don't understand the question?"

Hands shot up all around the room. I estimated that between seventy five and ninety percent of the students in the room had raised their hands. Looking around me, I also saw that there was a second roomful of students behind the room where I was, and that most of them had also raised their hands. One fellow had even stood up and in anger shouted out that he didn't care whether he passed the test or not. I however wasn't of a like mind, and I quickly interjected that I did care, that the test was important to me.

I turned again to the professor and asked him just how much this quiz was going to count. But again the professor didn't seem inclined to answer my question, and instead, he stood up and began walking around the class, ignoring me. I realized I was becoming disruptive, and that the few students who actually knew the question were having trouble concentrating. However by this point I was so incensed I hardly cared. In fact, perceiving that most of the students might back me, I was even considering starting a riot. I might just pick up a chair and slam it against the wall. But that did seem a bit extreme, and I doubted I would go that far.

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